Jamiroquai’s new album ‘Automaton’ is the comeback album fans have been waiting for. When the album’s first track was unveiled earlier this year it sounded like the group, fronted by Jay Kay, had abandoned its acid-jazz, disco boogie aesthetic for something a bit more mechanical-sounding and fresher. It seemed, on the face of it, then like the group was forgoing live instrumentation for a more synth-based aesthetic. And in some respects that’s true, the album’s title track ‘Automaton’ is a hulking slab of mechanical disco with nods to electro and synth wave, but with a strong disco DNA bubbling just below the surface. But then there’s ‘Cloud 9’, the album’s second release, and that’s more of a classic Jamiroquai cut; a starry-eyed slice of pumping disco that pointed to an album that would be more in keeping with the group’s previous output.
Truth be told, ‘Automaton’ falls somewhere in between the two. Almost all the tracks feature stodgy disco basslines, chatty percussion and Jay Kay in full falsetto mode alongside plenty of Chic-esque backing vocals. But they’re also furnished with plenty of modern production flourishes that give each track — like ‘Shake It On’ and ‘Dr Buzz’, with its arpeggiated hooks and sculptured kicks — a more modern-sounding veneer that acts as a nice counter to Jay Kay’s classic delivery.
There’s actually very few weak songs, sure many of them don’t quite hit the heights of classics like ‘Canned Heat’ & and ‘Cosmic Girl’, but that was probably never on the cards. Highlight include the propulsive chintz of ‘Super Fresh’, which just needs to be the next single, there’s over-the-top proto-boogie on ‘Hot Property’ and a stripped back crooner in the form of ‘Nights Out In The Jungle’, though the latter’s faux rapping and scratching at the midway point just sounds a bit old-hat these days.
The only real criticism is the album losses it way a bit towards the end, with none of the final tracks managing to serve up the same sort of excitement as some of the album’s earlier cuts. ‘We Can Do It’ sounds a little half-baked, both in execution and the phrase it chooses to repeat, ‘Vitamin’ ups the ante and is a nitrous cut of frisky, free-flowing acid-jazz that is arguably one of the album’s more daring moments and finally, ‘Carla’ is a juicy cut of synth pop with its dazzling melodies and Jay Kay’s crisp delivery. Yes, ‘Automaton’ does fall between two stools at times, but when it gets it right it’s a breath of fresh air and yet still unmistakeably a Jamiroquai record at its core — it just would have been nice to hear more tracks like ‘Automaton’ and less like ‘We Can’t Do It’.
Jamiroquai’s ‘Automaton’ is out tomorrow.